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This article is about basil the plant and herb. For other uses of the word basil'', see basil (disambiguation).
Ref: ITIS 32626 2002-08-03
Basil is a low-growing annual. It has light green silky leaves and tastes somewhat like cloves, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell. Basil is very sensitive to cold.
The word basil (fr. Gk basileus, king) means "royal". The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine".
Basil as a herb
The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. Place fresh leaves in a dry jar with a pinch of salt, and cover with olive oil. The dried herb tastes utterly different, rather like curry.
Mediterranean cuisines frequently use basil, especially combined with tomato.
There are several varieties of basil grown in many regions of Asia. Most of the Asian basils have a clove-like flavor that is generally stronger than that of the Western basils. Basils are very popular in Thai cuisine. Vietnamese and Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and foods.
Culinary writers opine it means "king of herbs".
The name basil may derive from the basilisk (also fr. Gk basileus), a legendary monster, because the plant was said to be a cure for its poison. Indeed, A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, tells us: "The seeds have been reckoned efficacious against the poison of serpents..."
In Boccaccio's Decameron a memorably morbid tale (novella V) tells of Lisabetta, whose brothers slay her lover. He appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She secretly disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, which she waters with her daily tears. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies of her grief not long after. The story is already told of the Longobard queen Rosalind.
See also Basil of Caesarea.